Bittersweet Morning

It’s midmorning on a November Saturday, and I’ve been quail hunting since dawn with no success. At least that’s the way my dog, Basie, and I look at it. I’m sure the quail I’ve shot at and missed feel differently.

We come up a woody draw, which usually has a covey in it, and, though Basie gets birdy a time or two, we find nothing. Well, I shouldn’t say nothing. Where the draw peters out into fescue and harvested soybeans, we find a stand of bittersweet.

This time of year, bittersweet comes into its own. A few hard frosts have made the leaves drop from the vine. The clustered yellow buds unfold like wings, revealing bright orange berries that shine and pulse in the gray fall woods like tiny charms.

It’s a healthy stand of bittersweet, covering a couple of large cedars. I don’t think I’ll cause it any harm if I fill my empty game bag with enough to make a wreath. And since I’ve left my wife home for the morning with our toddler daughter, it wouldn’t hurt to bring back something pretty for the house.

The vine is hard to reach, and my dull knife keeps slipping off its slick bark. Finally the blade finds purchase. As I cut the vine, it occurs to me that I don’t hear the bell on Basie’s collar. I glance over and see her, taut as a bowstring, pointing into the fescue. Fescue is the bane of quail and quail hunters. No self-respecting quail would be caught dead there. If ever Basie was pointing a rabbit (or a skunk, or wood rat), it’s now.

I turn back to work and begin to carefully untwist the vine from the juniper tree. Out of the corner of my eye, I see 15 or 20 quail boil out of the accursed fescue 10 feet in front of Basie’s nose. Watching the quail crest the hill, I roll the bittersweet into a tight bundle and put it in my vest. At least I’ll have something there at the end of the day.

The quail have landed in a finger of woods that’s much too big for one hunter and one dog to cover well. But, if I recall correctly, there’s bittersweet on the far side of that finger. A little more would really make a wreath to write home about.

So I call Basie to heel, and we set off through the fescue,